BIINtern sequels:  Gloria McIntush, teaching ESL

Published by Program Manager on

BIINtern sequels:  Gloria McIntush, teaching ESL

As her final semester as an undergraduate at Texas A&M drew to a close, Gloria McIntush knew what awaited her:  the many questions from well-meaning family and friends about what she would do next, the lurking uncertainty that she had come to think of as “the Great Unknown.”  While some of her peers had already figured out their next steps, Gloria’s plans for life post-graduation were still rather vague.  She dreamed of finding a job abroad, in a Spanish-speaking environment, but as for the details, these still needed to be worked out.

Gloria had grown up in a monolingual English-speaking family in New Braunfels, Texas.  Introduced to Spanish through classes starting in middle school, she brought her enthusiasm for languages to TAMU and decided to major in Spanish and International Studies. She also jumped at every chance she could to travel or study abroad, visiting Peru in 2018, spending five weeks in Chile in 2019 and participating in a trip for TAMU students to Greece in 2020, an adventure curtailed by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. By the time Gloria was a senior, she felt her skills in Spanish would open some doors, and she wanted to spend more time abroad, but where to go and how to sustain herself remained open questions.

Gloria’s years at TAMU were marked by learning the Aggie traditions, studying Spanish, participating in study abroad trips, doing some volunteer work, and celebrating her 2021 graduation with family and friends.

Gloria learned about BIIN, its programs and internships from two people she got to know on campus. Dr. Dinah Hannaford, a favorite instructor in International Studies, was “passionate about BIIN’s mission,” and had encouraged Gloria and other students in her classes to volunteer with the organization.  Gloria also learned about the possibility of doing an internship with BIIN from a friend and fellow student, Carly Baysinger (pictured left), who was serving as a Conversational English intern in fall 2021, when Gloria began to volunteer with the classes. Both students had loved their time in Chile with a TAMU study abroad program. As Gloria and Carly talked, the idea of moving to Latin America to teach English surfaced as one way to make a living after their graduation. With such a goal in mind, Gloria – who finished her degree in December 2021 – decided to apply for an internship with BIIN for spring 2022. From her perspective, “the internship opportunities offered by BIIN, especially the Conversational English intern position, seemed like a great way to practice teaching English while speaking Spanish and doing meaningful work that truly helps the community.”

Gloria had studied Spanish for many years and knew that teaching a language requires more than just showing up with a positive attitude. Realizing that formal credentials could help with an eventual search for paid work, Gloria did research and found an online certification program in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).  Her plan was to take this program at the same time as she served BIIN as an intern and took on a range of part-time jobs (running for Favor, tutoring online, and doing photo shoots for graduating TAMU students), to make ends meet. She also made sure that the work she would be doing with BIIN’s Conversational English classes would count towards the practice requirements of her TEFL certification program. In January 2022, she began a new schedule that required balancing these various commitments.

While due to the spike in Covid-19 infections caused by the Omicron variant, most of BIIN’s Conversational English classes were still being held online in spring 2022, the volunteer teacher leading the Level 1 class, Julia Lynch, had proposed to return to teaching in-person, with everyone masked.

As a result, Gloria and her fellow Conversational English intern, Akshay Peddireddy, were required to work from the BIIN office, so that they could be present to assist with both the in-person class and the online classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings. The hybridity of this expectation required some goodwill from everyone, but Gloria quickly demonstrated that flexibility and a cheerful, unflappable quality were among her key traits.

The internship with BIIN proved to be demanding in some ways, but also helpful to honing Gloria’s skills and to clarifying what she wanted to do in the future. As she recalled,

The challenging part was staying on top of all the communications that needed to be sent out to students. Reminders for both Level 1 and 2 classes needed to be sent several times a week on a schedule, with the correct dates, information and Zoom links for online classes.  I also fielded questions and concerns from students, mostly in Spanish, as they came up.

The helpful parts were the chance to teach the class or a part of a class occasionally, as well as the opportunity to observe several really wonderful teachers across a range of classes (online and in-person, Levels 1 and 2).  I also gained experience working with different management software, like Salesforce and Volgistics.  Hooray for marketable skills!

The meaningful part of this internship was getting a front row seat to see how students’ lives were impacted by English classes. Most students work, some waking up at 3 AM to be at work at 4 AM, some working two jobs at once. Yet they still manage to come to English class for an hour and a half twice a week, motivated, optimistic, and grateful to be there.

Even when classes met online, Gloria enjoyed interacting with students and volunteers and watching the approach taken by different teachers.

Besides offering hands-on learning about how to teach English as a second language, the BIIN internship gave Gloria the chance to develop other skills: coordinating and communicating with volunteers, helping to administer an educational course, interviewing and writing about students and their perspective on the classes. Doing all of this at the same time as she worked through the TEFL certification program gave Gloria many new insights. As she put it,

Through my work with BIIN, I discovered that not only do I enjoy teaching English as a second language, but I’m kind of good at it too!  I also realized that I would like to continue teaching adults, which is what I do now. And I realized that you can make connections with really good people by volunteering at a non-profit.

Among the people at BIIN with whom Gloria developed relationships were the experienced volunteer teachers who led the classes she was assigned to work with.  As she recalled,

I really enjoyed working closely with Susan Dennis, one of the teachers for the online Level 2 class, and Julia Lynch, the teacher for the in-person Level 1 class. Both of these women were incredibly supportive of my plans to move abroad and went out of their way to offer me guidance and to make sure I was getting meaningful teaching experience.  Susan and my staff supervisor Janet Morford wrote several letters of recommendation for me during my job search.  I am so grateful to all of them! 

Gloria appreciated the chance to learn from experienced language teachers Susan Dennis (top) and Julia Lynch (bottom), and the ways that both of these BIIN volunteers took an interest in and supported her longer-term goals.

In May 2022, Gloria completed both her internship with BIIN and her TEFL certificate and began a more intensive period of looking for paid work in a Spanish-speaking context. Looking back on this process, she remembers that it required both openness and perseverance: 

My job search lasted about four months, which felt like an eternity but is really not that long. During this time, I did a bit of traveling. I went to Mexico (twice!) and Puerto Rico. It was my first time in Mexico, and I figured out pretty quickly that this is where I wanted to live. I applied to positions in Houston, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Mexico, though my preference was Mexico. I received the official job offer for my current position the day of my 23rd birthday, which is a bit funny because when I was asked by my family what I wanted for my birthday, I always replied, “a job!” I suppose you could say I manifested it.  Either that or the teaching and education management experience I gained at BIIN looked great on my resumé.

In October 2022, Gloria finally found herself en route to her new full-time paid role, teaching business English to adults at United English, a private language school located in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico.

Santiago de Querétaro is in central Mexico, about halfway between San Luis de Potosi and the nation’s capital, known in Spanish as “D.F.” or distrito federal. Traversed by an 18th century aqueduct and home to many Baroque churches, the city has long been a center for economic activity, including a thriving service sector.

This is how Gloria describes her responsibilities at United English and the daily routine she has built around it:

I teach business English to adults (though there are a few high school and college students here and there). Because we teach working adults, we work a split schedule, which means during the week I work from 7AM-11AM and then again from 5PM-9PM. Most days I wake up early, drag myself out of bed to drink a cup of coffee, get ready for the day, and take a super quick walk from my apartment to be at work in time for the morning shift. We teach one class every hour, with different lessons and groups of students each class. This schedule took some getting used to as it is pretty fast paced, but now I really enjoy it because of the variety. It keeps things interesting. After my first shift, I have a good chunk of time to run errands, work out, get a coffee with a friend, call my loved ones, read, do house chores, cook lunch and dinner, watch a TV show, or nap, before returning to work for the evening shift.

The most challenging part of this position is definitely the early mornings. Especially when the weather is cold (most buildings in Mexico do not have central heating or cooling, and my apartment is no exception), it is so difficult to get out of bed!  Before taking this job, I was certainly not someone you would have described as a “morning person.” However, I have come to appreciate the split schedule, despite the challenging hours. I really enjoy having two four-hour shifts with a nice long break in the middle instead of trying to muscle through eight straight hours of work every day.

As she adapts to a new schedule and environment, Gloria is also discovering the advantages of teaching highly motivated adults and working in a sector (teaching ESL) that appeals to energetic, openminded people from many backgrounds:

The most rewarding part of this experience has been getting to know people from all over the world. In this line of work, there are so many opportunities to make connections with really interesting people. Generally, people who move abroad to teach English are people who want to learn about the world and go on adventures. My co-workers come from the USA like me, but also from Europe, Kenya, and New Zealand. If you put a bunch of these people into one classroom at an English school, interesting conversations are bound to happen!

In addition to talking with the other teachers, teaching adult students provides the unique opportunity to really get to know and become friends with your students. In class, we chat about life, travel, and culture, often swapping colloquial expressions. For example, one of my classes this past week really enjoyed practicing using the expression “hooting and hollering.” My spirits are always lifted when I see my favorite students’ names on my schedule.

The challenge of this line of work is, obviously, the bit about living in a foreign country. Though I had been to Mexico before, already spoke Spanish, and even had family friends in the city, it was and remains an ongoing process of getting used to a new way of life. Being alone in a new city in a foreign country is intimidating no matter what. You will feel like a completely lost dummy many times before you start to get the hang of things.

To meet the challenges of living abroad head on, Gloria finds it helpful to be proactive in exploring her new city and seeking social gatherings, while also staying in touch with family and friends back in the States:

I have been enjoying developing new friendships here in Mexico and maintaining my friendships back home with weekly Facetime calls. I also call my family on the phone constantly. Recently, I have been going to bars to watch the World Cup games with my co-workers. I have also been exploring my new city and figuring out the municipal bus system. There is always some sort of museum to go see, or event or festival or fair or theater performance or lucha libre or bullfight going on. It would be very difficult to be bored here!

The architecture, flora, colors, sounds, tastes and traditions of Santiago de Querétaro mean that new pleasures are always waiting to be discovered. Gloria was pleased to have arrived just in time to join in Día de Muertos celebrations this fall. She also appreciates the city’s proximity to mountains, which she explores with friends on the weekend.

Looking back over the past year and thinking about all the steps that enabled her to make good on her dream of living and working abroad, Gloria feels gratitude and satisfaction at having found a path that suits her skills and interests. With intention, action, patience, perseverance and help from others, she discovered a way to move through the unmarked terrain of life post-graduation and into a situation that is rewarding in multiple ways. Thinking about how little she knew as a last-semester senior, she empathizes with undergrads who may face similar dilemmas:

Especially if you don’t have a job already lined up for you after you graduate, you are likely at some point to experience what I call “The Great Unknown.” Embrace it!! There is so much potential and freedom in not having a plan or even a vague sense of direction in your life quite yet:  you could do anything and go anywhere. I mean, of course, first do what you’ve got to do, to pay the bills. It is difficult to enjoy this freedom when you have student loan or credit card debt breathing down your neck. But otherwise, try not to fret over having a solid, concrete plan immediately after graduating. 

Instead of fretting, Gloria suggests action and connection, as ways of moving ahead. Whether it is by volunteering or interning with a nonprofit or another organization whose mission resonates with your interests (and doing whatever side hustles it takes to make ends meet), people without a clear path forward have much to learn by seeking opportunities for hands-on engagement. Specifically for BIIN interns, present, past or future, or for young people serving other nonprofits, Gloria offers this advice:

Really lean in, to the connections you make through BIIN or other nonprofits. Don’t be shy, and don’t just let them fizzle out after the work is done. There are friendships to be had, networking connections to be made, and stories to be shared. Take advantage!

Take advantage of being surrounded by people who can help you develop and expand your skills, listen to your dreams and help you identify ways to get there. Jump at the chance to build relationships with people of different ages and backgrounds as you learn and teach others new tools. Accept the many unknowns that accompany any season of transition and put your energy into pursuits that make your soul sing. There is so much good work that needs to be done in this world. Find something that speaks to you and go for it! 

As Gloria’s story suggests, embracing uncertainty can be hard, but ultimately deeply rewarding, not only for individuals but for the organizations and communities they work and live with. As she puts it,

When I graduated, I didn’t have much more of a plan than to find a job abroad somewhere. I didn’t really know when this would happen, or where I would end up, or what my life would look like. At times it was stressful, this lack of a solid plan or clear direction, but it was also exciting. There is a lot of opportunity and freedom in this type of unknown.

There is a quote from the contemporary poet Brianna West that I read during my “tour of duty through the Great Unknown” (or the ten months between graduating from college and securing my first “adult job”) that I like. It’s a passage from her work that brought me a lot of comfort:

“One day, you will look back on this time, and all you will see is magic. You won’t remember how stuck you felt, or how far behind you thought you were, or what you wished you had done differently. All you will see is that within your uncertainty was also potential, and within your lostness was also an opportunity to be found.”

Thank you, Gloria, for looking for and finding BIIN, investing in our programs and people, and sharing your story with us. We wish you all the best as you continue to build bridges and to expand the vocabularies, the imaginations and the potential of those who are fortunate to work and to interact with you in Santiago de Querétaro!  Feliz año nuevo y disfruta de tu nuevo hogar!

Categories: Faces of BIIN